Amazing Movement

My fellow Lions have been telling me for the past year to sign up for the Lions International 100 Year Anniversary Convention. I listened, and argued with myself about going. One day I got up enough nerve to begin filling out the registration form online. When it came time to pay and to pump in my credit card numbers the program locked up and I backed out. The Convention began on Friday, June 30 and runs until July 4th. Because it is the 100th anniversary and the Lions Club was founded by Chicago businessman Melvin Jones, it is in Chicago. Three days ago, I decided to let go and volunteer to work the event. I talked myself into giving up one day away from Peg and to serve the cause. E-mail is wonderful. I messaged the Volunteer volunteer and he accepted me graciously. I told him I would work in any capacity. He assigned me to the Parade of Nations. The Parade was on Saturday and this was on Thursday. The hook was that I had to register to attend the event to work the event. I busied myself for the rest of the day deciding on how to get their, where to park and how to proceed. Finally, I decided I would go down to Mc Cormack Place on Friday to register, so I wouldn’t be rushed on Saturday morning. Lion Ralph told me to be at the parade registration tent by 7:00 a.m.

On Friday morning after breakfast and after getting Peg out of bed, I drove the thirty-five miles to Mc Cormack Place and arrived at the convention center at 11:00 am. I had to be home by 2:30 to help with Peg again. I found the line going to room 102 and stopped dead. The line was easily three people wide and a hundred yards long. I wasn’t worried, I had plenty of time. After forty minutes spent chatting with Lions from India, Philippines, and Malta I made some forward progress. Still not to worry, I can still make my deadline. A Lion volunteer appeared, and asked what we were in line for. I told him what my situation was, and he walked me ahead to serpentine line immediately outside room 102. It was half filled. Great I thought, a short line. I met more Lions, this time from India, Philippines, Indiana, Hawaii, and London. At twelve thirty I made it through the door of room 102 only to find another serpentine which was full. Luckily, there were about six registrars moving us along. There was a second serpentine line in the room next to ours. It also served by six registrars. I learned that these people were all non-english speaking Lions.

An amazing thing about all these lines filled by people from everywhere is that there wasn’t a crabby person anywhere. I would have thought that if you just arrived from Australia (eighteen hours non-stop, and longer if connections have to be made), the night before suffering from a severe case of jet-lag, and were tired that you would really be upset by having to wait in another long line. It wasn’t the case, some of these people had waited in lines for hours in a couple of airports before they got to the convention. Lions Clubs International Foundation told us they planned on forty thousand people attending. By the opening day they estimated fifty-five thousand. I personally met several who made decisions at the very last-minute, and missed the deadline to get credentials by mail.  So, there we were waiting and telling stories about our clubs and activities. At 2:00 p.m. I called Peg’s caretaker to let her know I would be seriously late. I got home at 4:30. Peg was fine without me.

On Saturday morning the opportunity alarm went off at five a.m. I crawled out of bed, showered, dressed and left the house by 5:30. At that time of the morning on a Saturday of a holiday weekend the traffic moved at seventy-five all the way to the turn-off for the Outer Drive. I sailed through the construction zone past Mc Cormack Place and onto the Drive. I exited at the light before Randolph, and turned onto Michigan Avenue to disappear into the underground garage under Millennium Park. It was so empty I was able to park within fifty feet of the exit to Randolph Street. I had about a mile walk ahead of me to the parade registration tent, but I was so early I just took my time and sauntered along. About midway between Randolph and State I saw something strange. A City of Chicago dump truck fully loaded with salt and a snow plow parked at the curb. A driver sat behind the wheel. Strange I thought, they can’t be waiting for a snow storm. A few yards further on the opposite side of the street sat another truck with the plow and salt. I menatlly filed it, and proceeded to the reported check-in tent. I got to the spot only to find myself there all alone, no tent, and not a single person insight. This can’t be, I’m right on the mark printed in the instructions. Not to worry, I still had plenty of time so I sauntered back a half mile to the official parade start point. Alas, a tent with Lions. I found someone, and checked in at 7 a.m. By that time, the only parade volunteer vests they had left were XXL or XXXL. I chose the double. I am a big guy around the belly and chest but thankfully, I am nowhere near XXL, I would have asked for an L, or an M. Finally, a volunteer registered me. A volunteer registered by another volunteer. I asked for my assignment, I got it from another volunteer. I was to go to the Purple Zone which was about four blocks back from where I came. I eventually learned that a purple flag defined an area for a specific group of countries. It was about half a city block long and ended at a grey flag. Further west at half block increments there were more colored flags. Luckily, I learned one of the volunteers there with me was another Lion who held the key to the event; a list of countries and the color of their staging area. In the beginning there were not many people at the area, but by eight a.m. things began picking up. The scheduled start time was 9:00 a.m. As more people came my job was to answer their questions. Most needed direction to their start zone. I’d find the lady with the list, and we’d use sign language to direct them. (we had a poster with the zone colors and arrows pointing the direction). The crowd got bigger and nine o’clock came, and went, but the parade did not begin. There was total confusion as Lions from 135 countries milled about looking for directions.

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My XXL Volunteer Parade Marshall Vest

As the crowd grew, the head Marshall had the north-south streets closed off. As they did that the traffic on La Salle Street (the grey zone) got really heavy as Chicagoans not knowing what was going on searched out ways to get around the blockage. My job shifted to holding back people from crossing the street against the lights. The Lions are all crazy I thought, they step out with their backs into the traffic lane without looking to take group pictures, or to look at their phones. Picture taking was in a frenzy as a group saw interesting costumes from another country, and they rushed to take pictures with them. Numerous young ladies handed me their camera and smiled at me to take their picture with a group.

One lady who happened to live downtown was on a suicide mission to cross the street when we stood in front of her with arms stretched out. She very indignantly shouted that she needed to get to the other side. My fellow Lion belly bumped her, and told her if she didn’t obey he would call a cop. She rebelled and yelled even louder. She shoved   him away and proceeded to bull her way past him. He grabbed her by the arm at which point she really hollered out “let go of me, and don’t you touch me again.”

” Lady,” I Said, “all we want to do is to protect you from getting run over, when the light changes we will let you cross.” She stopped yelling and waited. Had we let her go she would have been followed by a stream of people running behind her. Most of these people were from Asia and they are accustomed to crossing streets with lots of traffic, I thought, but one wrong move by me, and someone will get hurt. I stopped another Asian lady who was stunned by my direction. I told her “We want you to go home alive,” she smiled and stepped back. In general, the Asians were very respectful.

Just around the corner on La Salle Street stood the Joliet American Legion Band. Patiently standing at ease in lines ready to march into the parade. Dressed in navy blue suits, white shirts with black ties, and Captains hats they were there for at least two hours standing, holding their instruments. I wanted them to begin playing, but they remained quiet throughout watching the mayhem pass by them. I guess I’ll have to wait until the Sunday night concert at Frankfort’s Concert on the Green where they are playing the next evening.

By 9:30 a.m. the streets were filled with marchers from the countries but still there was no movement. The people traffic on the corners and the sidewalks slowed a bit as last-minute paraders scurried to their start zones. Finally, at 10 a.m.the parade began moving, and my role shifted to one of urging people to move along so there would be no long gaps between. I stood on the median on Wacker Drive and waved them forward to catch the group so they could stand and wait for more movement.” Hurry up, and wait,” I told them. From 10:00 am until 1:00 p.m. I stood and watched in amazement waving my arms forward as people from so many countries passed me by. China was my favorite. I didn’t even know the Lions had clubs in China. First they carried a banner as wide as the street announcing China, Then a very short distance later came another banner declaring China, and below that the name of the city they represented followed by row after row of Chinese Lions waving flags. there had to be ten Chinese cities represented, each with hundreds of marchers. My favorite was the city that did a Dragon Dance as a special attraction. In addition to their hundred marchers the dragon snaked his way around, and through the marchers to the beat of a very loud drum.

At one o’clock my legs were numb and feet hurt, so I decided to quit. I walked away near the end of the line, and headed to a coffee shop on La Salle that reminded me of the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. I ordered a bowl of chicken dumpling soup, it was the first and only thing I had to eat. I paid $6.79 for this small bowl of soup and thought how glad I am not to be working downtown. Inside the shop I met an Australian couple who were also snacking. I asked them why they weren’t marching. “We did,” they answered.

“How long did it take?”

“About an hour.” Gosh it started at ten, and it is now one and still going. I finished my soup and walked out to be surprised that there were no marchers left on Wacker Drive. I saw a crowd of orange vested volunteers at the corner of Wacker and State two blocks away. I walked slower than my start of the day saunter, and as I approached the tail end of the crowd two old lady Lions tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew where to catch a shuttle bus back to Mc Cormack Place. Here they were at the starting point of the parade route, and I had to tell them the shuttle busses were at the conclusion one mile south. I thought they were going to faint right there. I don’t know how they made it back, I’m hoping the lions marshaling the parade at the end would help them out.

I slowly walked the sidewalk south to Randolph, and made the turn east to find my car  when the answer came. There, parked diagonally across the street blocking four lanes of traffic were the two dump trucks loaded with salt, and their plows lowered to the ground. They were a deterrent to terrorists. Chicago can’t control gun violence but it was making sure the headlines would not read “truck rams parade killing. . .” My guess is they had trucks blocking every street crossing the parade route.

Good job Chicago, thanks for letting us use the city for a great parade.

2 Responses

  1. Long ago father poured concrete steps and mounted
    concrete lions on pedestal each side for Lion’s building in Miami. . Lotta work but no charge. Father and I both Masons so always close with Lions and charities.

    • Thank you for helping Lions .

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